Rita Levi-Montalcini, a biologist who conducted underground research in defiance of Fascist persecution and went on to win a Nobel Prize for helping unlock the mysteries of the cell, died Sunday in Rome. She was 103.
Italy's so-called "Lady of the Cells," a Jew who lived through anti-Semitic discrimination and the Nazi invasion, became one of her country's leading scientists and shared the Nobel medicine prize in 1986 with American biochemist Stanley Cohen for their groundbreaking research carried out in the U.S. Her research increased the understanding of many conditions, including tumors, developmental malformations, and senile dementia.
She kept an intensive work schedule well into old age.
"At 100, I have a mind that is superior - thanks to experience - than when I was 20," she said in 2009.
Levi-Montalcini was born April 22, 1909, to a Jewish family in of Turin. At age 20 she overcame her father's objections that women should not study and later obtained a degree in medicine and surgery from Turin University.
She studied under top anatomist Giuseppe Levi, whom she often credited for her own success. Levi and Levi-Montalcini were not related.
After graduating, Levi-Montalcini began working as a research assistant in neurobiology but lost her job in 1938 when Italy's Fascist regime passed laws barring Jews from universities and major professions.
Her family decided to stay in Italy and, as World War II neared, Levi-Montalcini created a makeshift lab in her bedroom, where she began studying the development of chicken embryos. That later led to her major discovery of mechanisms that regulate growth of cells and organs.
With eggs becoming a rarity due to the war, the young scientist biked around the countryside to buy them from farmers. She was soon joined in her secret research by Levi, her university mentor, who was also Jewish and who became her assistant.
The 1943 German invasion of Italy forced the Levi-Montalcini family to flee to Florence and live underground.
In 1947, Levi-Montalcini was invited to the United States, where she remained for more than 20 years. She called that "the happiest and most productive" time of her life. She held dual Italian-U.S. citizenship.
During her research at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., she discovered nerve growth factor, the first substance known to regulate the growth of cells. The research increased the understanding of many conditions, including tumors, developmental malformations, and senile dementia.
Nun who gave up habit to run teen mag dies at 82
Midge Turk Richardson, a former nun and parochial school principal in Los Angeles who cast off her habit for the world of New York publishing, where she reigned for nearly two decades as editor of Seventeen magazine, was found dead Dec. 17 in her New York City home, apparently of natural causes. She was 82.
A Los Angeles native, Richardson spent 18 years as a nun in the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, including seven years as superintendent of Our Lady Queen of Angels High School.
She left the order in 1966, a few years before it disbanded in a dispute with Cardinal James Francis McIntyre of the Los Angeles Archdiocese over reforms addressed by the Second Vatican Council.
Richardson described the personal upheaval of those years in a 1971 memoir, "The Buried Life."
In her new life, she joined the New York social swirl, married a former tennis star and in 1975 became editor of Seventeen, the iconic magazine for teenage girls founded in 1944. As the publication's longest-serving editor, she played a central role in expanding its coverage beyond beauty and fashion to college, careers and issues such as feminism and human rights.
She also featured frank discussions of such topics as sex, abortion, eating disorders and depression. She wrote a regular column called "Sex and Your Body."
Richardson often said she saw her magazine work as a natural extension of her previous role as an educator.
"Life is moving so much faster for this generation," she told the Chicago Tribune in 1989. "They're talking about jobs and college when they're 15. ... They are making a lot of very serious choices about sex at a very early age. We have to educate them much sooner to deal with this."
Running the country's top magazine for adolescent girls was not in her sights when she was growing up in a Catholic family in Los Angeles in the 1930s and '40s.
Her interests shifted as she grew older: "In my day, if there had been VISTA or the Peace Corps," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1978, "I might have considered that. I was very idealistic, and my family was traditional."
Instead, she became a teaching nun. She joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1948 when she was 18. In 1952, she graduated from Immaculate Heart College with a bachelor's degree in English, followed by a master's in the same subject in 1957.
She taught English, French and drama in parochial schools, including Immaculate Heart High School. Later she was principal of Our Lady Queen of Angels High School and was promoted to mother superior.
In 1966, she faced what she called "the most difficult decision of my life." The Vatican II reforms of the early 1960s were an attempt to modernize the church during an era of tremendous social tumult, but they were strongly opposed by McIntyre, who refused to soften rules governing such matters as what time nuns went to bed and whether they had to wear habits while teaching.
Richardson moved to New York, where she was hired as a teacher and assistant to the dean at New York University's School of the Arts. She attracted the attention of Glamour magazine after participating in a "design-in" at Central Park and in 1967 became its college editor.
After leaving Glamour in 1974, she briefly edited Scholastic's teen magazine Coed before she was lured to Seventeen as executive editor.
She was 44 when she married Hamilton Richardson, a Rhodes scholar and former Davis Cup tennis star who had gone into the oil and gas business. He died in 2006.